Boo! & Brr

Wow, November has started out with a cold snap. It’s been quite fresh and crisp outside, which has been lovely. Right now I have been taking a mellow approach towards the holidays. I have been already looking at cookie recipes for Christmas, but I have also been enjoying the moment, i.e., no Christmas songs until December! It’s helped that I actually celebrated Halloween this year.

First, in celebration of October, I made these amazing pumpkin swirl cheesecake squares, which got rave comments. The crispy shortbread crust and the smooth cream cheese made one good bar. I used spreadable cream cheese instead of the brick cream cheese, since that was all I had. I was concerned that it wouldn’t turn out, but it was totally fine. I recommend you make these if you still have pumpkin hanging around!

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The entrance to our current school abode before a Halloween party.

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This year I decided to dress up for Halloween. I don’t think I’ve had an actual costume since grade 6. I didn’t have midterms so I had some time to put together a costume: I became a flamingo for the night. It was fun to dress up in pink feather boas, even though I shed everywhere. I made a no-sew tutu out of tulle and boas and I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. This was also my first time putting on fake eyelashes, but I tried them out anyway and they really made the costume.

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Hope you all had a good Halloween, and that you enjoy this upcoming holiday season!

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Nature/Math

You know how you’re not supposed to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, because then you’re more likely to succumb to buying junk food? The same should be said for going to the farmer’s market, but at least you come out with healthy food instead of chips!

Last Saturday I woke up fairly early, so I decided to hit up the St. Lawrence Farmer’s Market before eating breakfast, and tried to avoid the crowd. Well, I came out with a lot of stuff before rushing home for breakfast.

My goods:

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In terms of the more normal fruit & veg, I got some crispy tart/sweet Golden Delicious apples and some firm, sweet Bosc pears.  I picked up a cute acorn squash, because this fall, I planned on conquering my fear on cooking squash. I also bought a couple of huge bunches of kale.

And in terms of some more interesting finds, I got some apple cider, which was preservative-free and unsweetened. In the past, I often avoided apple cider since it was always sweet (though delicious), but I was very excited to find some that had no added sugar.

And what was that giant acid green mass in the front? It was Romanesco cauliflower. I had never even seen this before! I asked the vendor how to cook it and he told me to cook it like regular cauliflower. So I mustered some courage (yep, I am somewhat an apprehensive cook), and bought this huge bunch. I read up more on Romanesco cauliflowers when I got back. One cool fact I learned was that Romanesco cauliflowers was a natural approximation of a fractal. Nature can be so cool! I roasted the cauliflower with a splash of olive oil and red pepper flakes. Yum. It tasted like a mix of broccoli and cauliflower.

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Fall Food

This week felt so long because I was looking forward to Thanksgiving this weekend! Finally it’s here, since I don’t have class Fridays. Lately I really embraced fall in my food for all meals of the day.

Breakfast:

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Apple and cranberry oatmeal. After boiling a 2/3 cup of water, I threw in a finely chopped apple along with 1/3 cup oatmeal, half a banana, thinly sliced, and a good dash of cinnamon. I simmered that for about four minutes on medium. Then I stirred in some cranberries, frozen from last year (ahem), and cooked the oatmeal on low heat for several more minutes until a good thick consistency.

I had been meaning to bake with pumpkin for the last two weeks, but for whatever reason I hadn’t, so I got my pumpkin fix in quicker ways.

Pumpkin oatmeal! I followed the recipe here. This time I used 1/3 cup of milk, 1/3 cup of oatmeal, half a banana, thinly sliced, and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, and heated them, stirring continuously until it was just about bubbling. Then I stirred in a 1/4 cup of pumpkin puree. I turned down the heat and let it reach a thick consistency.

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I also made some pumpkin smoothies. I soaked 1/3 cup of oatmeal in a cup of milk overnight to soften the oats. In the morning, I blended the oat mixture with some pumpkin puree, half a frozen banana and some cinnamon and nutmeg. This could have been sweeter, but it was still fun for breakfast.

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For lunch one weekend I made pumpkin mac and “cheese” using Oh She Glows’ recipe. I say “cheese” because I used nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is a yeast that comes in flakes with a tangy “cheesy” flavour (and a very cheesy orange colour!) that vegans often use to substitute for cheese. I bought some a couple of years ago and I hadn’t used much of it. If you have any good recipes that calls for nutritional yeast, I am all ears! This pumpkin mac and cheese was pretty good–it was not quite the same as a regular mac and cheese, but the pumpkin gave it a thick and smooth texture.

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I didn’t use pumpkin for dinner, but for the past month, each Saturday or Sunday I made a big pot of something and ate it throughout the week. It was not exciting, but it worked for my schedule since I had night class three to four times a week. I liked not thinking about what was next for dinner.

Chickpeas with cauliflower, tomato and homegrown basil.

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Pork tenderloin roasted with grapes and red onion.

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Meatloaf: I know this is not a flattering picture, but I swear this was very good and simple to make. It was a mixture of ground beef, bread crumbs, an egg, ketchup, cayenne pepper, onion and broccoli for some greens. Something about meatloaf screamed homey, even though I didn’t grow up with meatloaf.

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A simple beef stew.

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And finally, pot roast.

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Unfortunately the meat in my beef stew and pot roast turned out slightly tough–not like my mom’s beef stew or pot roast at all. I suspected I didn’t cook them long enough, since I knew that the meat I used, beef chuck, was inherently tough. It was still edible and nutritious, especially with all those veggies, but it was disappointing.

I suppose this calls for more experimenting. Life of an aspiring home cook!

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Supercrawl 2013

A couple weeks ago, I went to Supercrawl in Hamilton, a city about an hour away from Toronto.  Supercrawl was a two-day festival over Friday and Saturday, celebrating music, art, and culture. While I had heard about the emerging art scene in Hamilton, this was my first time experiencing it, and I was excited to explore Hamilton!

Each year, Supercrawl gets bigger and I can definitely see why. The biggest draw to Supercrawl for me initially is the music line-up. This year they had some big bands such as Passion Pit, Yo La Tengo and Said the Whale. But I fell in love with so much more.

Supercrawl took place along a blocked off James Street North, so there was no need to worry about cars except for one crossing. We spotted interesting art in strange places.

SupercrawlA functional merry go round made out of scrap metal.

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There were so many cool vendors both on the street and vintage shops along James Street North.  

In particular, I found out about a very cute pop up vintage vendor, Dizzy Alice. Their selection of goods was so charming! I was also impressed at the quality. In my brief foray into vintage stores, I noticed things like broken zippers and frayed ends, which I understood was part of the hunt, but it was sometimes frustrating. So I was happy that I found a cute purse in good shape there. Not too adventurous, but I had been looking like something like this for a while.

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I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of their stall as it was freezing that Friday night we were there. This is Dizzy Alice’s write-up about Supercrawl. There were a couple items that I was eying that night. Now  I am kicking myself for not getting them. But I will definitely try to follow these girls around as their “shop” pops up in more places.

Part of the Supercrawl took place by Lake Ontario, as there was another stage by the water a bit further north than the rest of the event. This provided some serene views.

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Lastly, the music was fantastic. I was happy to see Young Galaxy play. It was also amazing to see the legends from the ’90s, Yo La Tengo, play. I wasn’t too ready for the ambient sounds live, but it was a good time. 

Then for the last musical act of the weekend, I somehow ended up literally front and centre for Passion Pit. That was a surreal experience in such a large (and younger) crowd. It was a lively show.

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This was a grand break from school and a lovely way to spend a fall-ish weekend.

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adieu, summer

Alas, the real end to summer is here. We’ve had some surprisingly chilly days already and a couple last (?) heat wave days in Toronto. I’m settling back into the school year. Yes, even autumn appropriate recipes are starting to catch my eye. 

As such, here is a belated last glimpse of summer 2013.

First up, sangria sorbet from Ed’s.

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A lot of good tunes:

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In July, my sister and I went to the Weezer memories concert. Weezer is a 90s alternative band that still makes music, but like many bands their earlier stuff is the best. They put on a tour in which they played their greatest hits reverse chronologically, followed with the main event: their first album, the Blue album, in full. It was a fantastic nostalgia-filled night.

I went to the last Wavelengths music festival at Artscape Gibraltar Point on the Toronto Islands in August. I found out about a lot of bands I hadn’t heard of before. A couple highlights were Catl, a rhythm and blues duo, and Beliefs, a lovely shoegazy band. Both are from Toronto!

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I also caught the Wooden Sky’s traveling show as part of Summerworks. The audience literally followed the band as they played across CAMH, the backs of buildings, and alleys. We ended up with a full out concert inside.

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I of course did some further cooking.

I held a brunch earlier in August for my birthday. I put out way too much spread, but I learned it’s really fun having friends over and sharing food. There was no need to stress out.

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Kinda sloppy shot, but these two overnight casseroles were a life saver in the morning: cinnamon toast French toast and a savoury “New York” breakfast casserole of bagels, red onion, cherry tomatoes and cream cheese (Smitten Kitchen’s cookbook). I prepped everything the night before, and put both of them in the oven in the morning.

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I continued my pie craze by making a a savoury tamale pie. I didn’t take a picture of the innards, but there was a turkey tomato stew underneath that cornbread crust. It was all baked up in the oven in a cast iron pan.

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I made one more pie: peach blueberry pie. This was my first double crusted pie and once again I tackled the crust. I have to say that rolling pie dough is probably the most stressful part, since the rolled out dough has to be large enough to cover the pie and you have to transfer the dough without it tearing. Fortunately, I just covered the pie, and it baked up beautifully/at least tasted good.

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Finally, I savoured summer’s last peaches with sour cream peach pancakes (also from Smitten Kitchen’s cookbook!).

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Until next year, summer! You were a good one. Let the season of stews, pumpkins and apple pie (hopefully) commence.

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Chicken Four-Ways (Part 2)

I hope everyone had a good Labour Day weekend, and that you are settling into September.  I had what will likely be my last first day of school. Toronto had our first chillier day yesterday, so I know fall is in the air.

This is a continuation of my earlier cooking chicken adventures post. My kitchen bucket list had roasting a whole chicken for a very long time. I’m proud to say I can cross that off. Fryer chicken was on sale at the grocery store one week so I picked it up and set out to roast a chicken. Over the past couple years, I’ve read that it is actually not that difficult to roast a chicken, but it was still somewhat intimidating working with, well, an entire animal. Now I’m confident I know the anatomy of a chicken!

So what roast chicken recipe did I end up using? It’s called “Engagement Chicken”. The back story is  that several women served their boyfriends this chicken and later, the boyfriend asked the girlfriend to marry him. No, there is nobody I want to be engaged to right now. I borrowed 100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know from the library (I won’t go into the arguably sexist title here, but it is a surprisingly good recipe book), which contained the above recipe for roast chicken. It had an interesting story and seemed approachable, which was a plus.

The chicken turned out moist and flavourful from the lemon. I do need to keep working on that crispy browned skin. I also need to learn how to carve a chicken. Fortunately since I’m cooking for one, it really doesn’t matter how the chicken ends up looking on the plate.

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I was so pleased with cooking a whole chicken that I decided to buy another chicken while it was still on sale. This time I spatchcocked it by cutting out the back bone with a pair of kitchen shears. Totally not hard at all with scissors. Heehee, I love the word “spatchcock”.

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I followed the recipe for huli huli chicken in Aida Mollencamp’s Keys to the Kitchen. Huli huli is a Hawaiian sauce. I marinated the chicken in pineapple juice, ginger, garlic and soya sauce before roasting it the oven.

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This is another good recipe to have on hand. You can’t go wrong with garlic. The sauce itself is dark so the chicken is not actually burnt. Although the recipe called to grill the chicken, since I don’t have a grill, I followed the instructions to roast it. This way I could also keep all the marinade in the roasting pan while in the oven.

I  saved the backbone for chicken stock — another food to-do list item, for sure! My other chicken to-do is to butcher a whole chicken into eight to ten parts (breast, thigh, drum, wing), and also learn how to butcher a chicken Chinese-style, which tends to serve cooked chicken cut up including the bones (e.g, the breast bone is part of the smaller breast pieces). I love learning new techniques in the kitchen.

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Chicken Four Ways (Part 1)

One of the great things about summer as a student is having the time to experiment with new recipes. I am not a self-professed meat lover, and let’s face it, cooking grains or legumes is so much less pressure. That said I am happy to add these simple chicken recipes to my repertoire.

First I started with drumsticks. I made Shutterbean’s Honey Lime Drumsticks.  I marinated the chicken in a honey, lime and minced garlic for a couple hours. Next time I will marinate it for longer, at least overnight. I didn’t have a grill, so I roasted these in the oven at 400 F for about 45 minutes, until the chicken reached an internal temperature of 165F. Then I broiled them for a few minutes to get a grilled-look. These were quite tasty and the marinade was so easy to mix together. My goal for next summer is to learn how to grill (and become a grill master!).

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A couple weeks later, I made these chili chicken thighs with creamy cilantro sauce. This was also an easy marinade of honey, chili powder, amber beer, apple cider vinegar and olive oil. I was so excited that I already had all the ingredients. Instead of the called for sour cream in the cilantro sauce, I used Greek yogurt. I used cilantro from my sister’s herb garden on the balcony, which I have been watering all summer. So refreshing. This recipe is a keeper, though I will also try to marinate the chicken for longer if possible.

chicken-005Featured: a healthy bunch of lettuce leaves also from our balcony garden.

While I’ve made drumsticks and thighs before, I’ve never marinated meat and I can see its appeal because you can infuse great flavours. Also, I cleaned up before I actually set out to cook later on, and the actual cooking was a breeze. After these successful chicken adventures, I later set out to tackle two kitchen bucket list items: roasting a chicken and spatchcocking a chicken. To be continued…

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